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Causes of Paralysis and Caring for a Paralyzed Dog

There are many causes of paralysis in dogs. And it is often difficult to determine the exact cause without further testing.

However, thanks to the veterinary field, we can figure out the leading causes of such severe diseases in dogs. But, to be honest, there is an area of veterinary pathologist jobs that are often overlooked. A veterinary pathologist is a medical doctor specializing in diagnosing and treating diseases of our smaller brethren. 

We enlisted the support of experienced specialists to explore the leading causes of paralysis in dogs and how to care for a paralyzed pet.

What is Paralysis, and What are the Causes of it in Dogs

Paralyzed dachshund walks in dog wheelchair

A dog’s paralysis can be a shocking and frightening diagnosis for any pet parent. Therefore it is crucial to investigate the cause of the Paralysis so that appropriate treatment can be administered and to help prevent future cases.

Paralysis is defined as the loss of muscle function in one or more limbs. Many things can cause paralysis. Here are five of the most common causes of paralysis in dogs:

1. Herniated discs

A herniated disc, also known as a slipped disc, is a condition that occurs when the inner gel-like substance of a disc bulges out through a tear in the outer wall. This can cause the disc to compress or pinch the spinal cord or nerves, leading to pain, weakness, and paralysis.

The most common cause of a herniated disc in dogs is trauma, such as a car accident or fall. 

Obesity and certain breeds (such as Dachshunds and Corgis) are also risk factors. Treatment for a herniated disc usually involves rest, pain relief, and physical therapy; surgery may be necessary in severe cases.

2. Intervertebral disc disease

This is a degenerative disease of the discs that separate the vertebrae in the spine. If the discs become damaged, they can rupture and compress the spinal cord, leading to paralysis.

While this condition can be caused by genetics, it is more often the result of trauma or injury. For example, dogs involved in car accidents or falling from a great height are at risk of developing intervertebral disc disease.

Symptoms of this condition include pain, weakness, and paralysis. Treatment typically involves surgery to remove the damaged discs and relieve pressure on the spinal cord. Recovery times vary depending on the severity of the condition, but most dogs can walk again after surgery.

3. Spinal cord tumors

These are masses that develop on or within the spinal cord. These tumors can be either cancerous or non-cancerous and can occur in any dog breed.

While spinal cord tumors are relatively rare, they can cause various symptoms, including paralysis. In some cases, the tumor may compress the spinal cord, resulting in loss of function in the affected area.

In other cases, the tumor may invade and damage the spinal cord tissue directly. Surgery is the most common treatment for spinal cord tumors, and radiation therapy may also be recommended. If the tumor is cancerous, chemotherapy may also be used.

4. Canine Stroke

A stroke occurs when the blood supply to the brain is interrupted, causing damage to the brain tissue. For example, this can happen if a blood vessel becomes blocked or bursts.

Symptoms of a stroke depend on which part of the brain is affected. They can include paralysis, weakness, and incoordination on one side of the body. Treatment for a stroke typically involves aggressive supportive care and physical therapy.

Surgery may sometimes be necessary to remove the blockage or repair the damaged blood vessel. However, with prompt treatment, most dogs fully recover from a stroke.

5. Autoimmune disease

Autoimmune disease occurs when the body’s immune system attacks healthy cells by mistake. This can happen for various reasons, including genetic predisposition and exposure to certain drugs or viruses.

Autoimmune diseases can affect any organ or tissue in the body, often leading to inflammation and damage. In dogs, autoimmune disease is a leading cause of paralysis.

When the nerves that control movement are inflamed or damaged, muscles can’t receive the signals they need to function correctly. This can result in weakness, loss of coordination, and eventually paralysis.

Treatment for autoimmune disease often includes steroids to reduce inflammation and immunosuppressive drugs to help prevent further damage. If caught early, many dogs make a full recovery. However, severe cases can be fatal.

While these are some of the most common causes of paralysis in dogs, many other potential causes exist. Any dog that shows sudden loss of mobility in their limbs needs to see a veterinarian as soon as possible. A quick diagnosis is essential to properly treat the cause for the best outcome.

Caring for a Paralyzed Dog – Tips and Advice

We had the privilege of talking with veterinary technicians about how to care for these special needs pets. Here are some tips and advice from our experts on caring for a paralyzed dog:


Paalyzed dog loves his Walkin' Wheels dog wheelchair

The first thing you’ll need to do is to assess the dog’s mobility. For instance, if your dog can’t move after an accident, it will require full-time assistance moving around. This means regular repositioning and turning to prevent pressure sores and help with toileting and exercise.

If partially paralyzed, your pet may be able to walk with the help of a mobility aid such as a wheelchair or cart. However, it’s essential to consult with a veterinary rehabilitation specialist to find the best mobility solution for your dog.

In either case, keeping the dog’s nails trimmed and their pads free of sores or cracks is also important. This will help prevent further injury and make it easier for them to move around.

Create a safe environment for the dog to move around in

This means removing any obstacles or hazards that could cause them to fall or injure themselves. As we mentioned, the dog will need full-time assistance moving around if it is completely paralyzed.

This means regular repositioning and turning to prevent pressure sores and help with toileting and exercise. Additionally, anything that could pose a risk to a human child should be removed from the area where the dog will be spending its time.

Cleanliness and skin care

Paralyzed dogs are at a higher risk of developing skin infections. This is because they often cannot move around and clean their skin with their tongues.

It’s essential to wash the dog regularly with a mild, hypoallergenic shampoo and to keep their skin moisturized. If the dog is incontinent, it will need to be cleaned more often to prevent urine scalding or fecal impaction.

It’s important to use a pH-balanced cleanser and ensure the area is arid before applying any moisture barrier ointments or creams. If the dog has pressure sores, your pet must be cleaned and treated regularly to prevent infection.

Exercise and play

Paralyzed golden doodle runs in wheelchair

Just because a dog is paralyzed doesn’t mean they don’t need exercise. It’s essential to find creative ways to help them stay active and avoid weight gain. This might include water therapy, physiotherapy, or just playing fetch with a light ball.

Paralyzed dogs also need mental stimulation to prevent boredom and keep their minds sharp. This can be accomplished with puzzle toys, training, and socialization with other pets and people.

Feeding and nutrition

A healthy diet is important for all dogs but vital for those with special needs. Paralyzed dogs often need a higher calorie diet to maintain their weight and energy levels. You should consult a veterinary nutritionist to create a custom diet plan for your patient.

Paralyzed dogs also need easy access to water at all times. This means having a bowl they can reach or using a water bottle with a long straw.

In Closing

Caring for a paralyzed dog can be challenging, but it’s also rewarding. These special needs pets rely on us for their care and happiness, and we take pride in being able to provide them with the best quality of life possible.

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